Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

  • February 21, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The U.S. Supreme Court will soon wade into the debate over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, when it hears oral argument next month in two cases with potentially significant implications for marriage equality. (Hollingsworth v. Perry focuses on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which yanked marriage rights from lesbians and gay men, and in Windsor v. U.S. the justices will review an appellate court ruling that invalidated a major provision of DOMA as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.)  

    But some congressional lawmakers are not waiting around to hear from the high court. Two senators are advancing equality on another front – for military same-sex spouses, by ensuring LGBT military families receive some of the same benefits that their straight counterparts enjoy. (Yes, as noted here, efforts to advance significant legislation in Congress are almost futile. Conversely liberal lawmakers in Congress cannot or should not cower from a radical anti-government agenda pushed by an increasingly right-wing Republican Party.)

    The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 would “require the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all servicemembers." The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and is named after National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who died of breast cancer earlier this month. Morgan’s wife, Karen, is not eligible for survivor benefits because the military does not recognize same-sex marriages.

    In a press statement about the measure, Sen. Gillibrand said it would be “an important step forward in achieving full equality for all of our men and women serving and fighting for our nation. Same-sex partners of military servicemembers should not be denied essential benefits because of who they are.”

    Sen. Shaheen said, “Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation her family is wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her. That is an unacceptable reality and I’m committed to doing all I can to make sure that no spouses, children and families are denied benefits they have earned and rightly deserve.”

     

  • January 23, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Lawmakers in Congress are not giving up on an effort to counter some of the state laws that have made it increasingly difficult to vote and that helped create long lines and waiting times for voters during November’s general elections.

    Earlier today, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and other House members, reintroduced the Voter Empowerment Act, while Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a companion version in the Senate.

    Over the past couple of years, state Republican lawmakers have created, with varying degrees of success, hurdles to voting. Those obstacles, such as limiting early voting, creating onerous voter ID requirements, and making it more difficult to conduct voter registration drives, were targeted largely at urban voters, minorities, college students and the elderly. (Victoria Bassetti, author of Electoral Dysfunction: A Survival Manual for American Voters wrote last fall about the cumbersome voting process in America, saying it mystified other countries. “In the United States, we put the burden on the voter. And in doing so, we keep company with nations such as the Bahamas, Belize and Burundi,” she wrote for The Washington Post.

    During the lame-duck session of Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing to examine some of measures hampering voters, and several of those measures were produced by states, such as Texas, South Carolina, and parts of Florida that are covered by the Voting Rights Act. Specifically Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires covered jurisdictions – those with the worst histories and patterns of racial discrimination in voting – to obtain preclearance for any changes to their voting procedures from the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. Several of the witnesses argued that beyond new federal efforts to modernize voting nationwide, Section 5 was still essential to ensure that newly created voting procedures do not discriminate against minority voters. (The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments in a case from Shelby County, Ala., challenging the constitutionality of Section 5.)

  • September 25, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The campaign to keep certain groups of people from voting – African Americans, Latinos, college students, the elderly – has included efforts to shut down voter registration drives, limit early voting, and onerous voter ID laws. As noted here frequently the voter suppression efforts have taken place mostly in states controlled by rightwing lawmakers, and not surprisingly they disproportionately impact urban voters. 

    Voters represented by civil liberties groups, labor groups, the Department of Justice and the Obama campaign team have taken court action to stop provisions of many of the suppression tactics. Earlier this summer Attorney General Eric Holder knocked the Texas voter ID scheme as akin to a Jim Crow era poll tax.

    And more congressional lawmakers are ramping up efforts against the voter suppression campaign. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a Civil Rights hero, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are pushing for passage of the Voter Empowerment Act aimed at modernizing voter registration to “ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans ….”   

    In a press statement announcing the push, Lewis said, “It should be easy to vote, as simple as a glass of water, in a society that believes in the immutable right to voter of every human being to determine his or her own future. We must eliminate every barrier and impediment to the electoral process to make voting fair, accessible, and an accurate representation of the will of the people. The vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society to build.”